Saved by the Bell: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Brian Fallon and I stood a shade off the field at Fenway Park after the 2001 Beanpot consolation game, interviewing Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh after a loss and hearing the words of a man who Got It.

Fallon, as usual, had just asked exactly the right question, and Walsh launched into a stirring speech about his seniors. But as often happened with Walsh, his answer went further than we could have imagined. He began to speak of life through baseball, about how much he appreciated his players’ toiling in anonymity, and it was moving. And then he said that we would understand—that we knew all about doing thankless tasks for the love of it, all while trying to keep our grades above the freezing mark and enjoying whatever else life had to offer.

By this point, the two of us had learned to pay close attention during Walsh postgame pow-wows because the man was a gem of a quote waiting to happen. His commentary alternated between the hilarious (he once complained about Harvard parents “clawing at you, trying to shove chocolate chip cookies down your face” between games in Ivy League doubleheaders), the profound (an emotional reflection on outfielder Joe Llanes’ battle with testicular cancer) and the sublimely hackneyed (Walsh’s references to the “baseball gods” were heartfelt enough to defy cliché). Joe Walsh was a baseball man of almost cinematic caliber who captured our imaginations immediately, a walking embodiment of that mystical fabric that connects the games of baseball and life. And so when he got philosophical, as he did that day after the season ended at the hands of UMass or Northeastern or whomever, we listened.

“You want to be around guys like that,” Walsh was saying of his seniors. “Sometime when your schooling’s over, when your education’s over, you’ll look back and you’ll say, ‘Hey, I did this with these guys.’” And Brian Fallon and I stood in the stands off the first base line, listening with reverence and maybe a hint of awe, shielding our eyes from the sun as it beat down on the Church of Joe Walsh.

Amen, brother. Amen.

***

My name is Martin Bell, and I did this with these guys.

What did we do? Some might say we spent a solid four years glorifying other people. Maybe there’s something to be said for that. Four years, and we’ve given Carl Morris and Joan Yenne and Brian Lentz countless clippings for albums, for children and grandkids and rainy days. Even the anonymous ones—the golfers, the swimmers—even they have their clippings. And the writing, should they bother to look back and compare, beats the heck out of what you’ll find in most such papers.

What did we do? We sat around in an office until the wee hours of the morning, fighting computers and news editors, watching the third repeat of the Atlanta Thrasher highlights on SportsCenter, hemorrhaging cash on road trips—and all, some might say, so that Tiffany Whitton and Jesse Jantzen get that extra clipping, a scrap of paper that could find itself in the trash within minutes of its arrival or, if kept, could find itself in a basement or a trunk, forever unloved, left to yellow and disappear. And even when read, the bylines are but obstacles, delaying the gratification that comes with seeing that yes, as a 20-year-old, you really did hit six of your nine free throw attempts against UNH. “By Rahul Rohatgi – Crimson Staff Writer?” Who cares?

And Rohatgi, meanwhile, is left with only the bylines, even if he’s the only Harvard guy involved who did his job well that weekend.

I’d like to rectify this. My name is Martin Bell, and I did this with these guys.

***

Brian Fallon taught me most of what I know about sportswriting. His prose eventually became the print equivalent of a Ted Williams swing, and the measures he put in place forever changed the way the board works. More importantly, Brian turned out to be one of the more genuine, intelligent and cool characters I could ever hope to meet. Yeah, the baseball team was lucky to have him on its beat. I was luckier to have him as a friend.

The two of us trudged up JFK Street after that Beanpot game, mostly silent, but both recognizing that something transcendent had occurred. “There’s something about this game,” he finally said. “Something about this game that creates things like this. It wouldn’t happen anywhere else.” And there was more to be said about the magic of the moment, but there was no need to go on articulating it at length, because we both understood. That may be what I miss most about Brian Fallon. The insight was always uncannily sharp, but never detached from a distinctly human sensibility. You wouldn’t expect all of that to come across watching Johnny Birtwell strike a guy out or Arthur Hendricks III trying (and failing) to beat a throw home. But, like the man said, there’s something about this game.

425. It’s a pretty impressive number and it is, roughly, the number of stories Dave De Remer wrote while here. Look at it, 425, up there in the same hallowed space with 755 and 56 and 2,632. No one else wrote with Dave’s regularity, nor his passion, dedication and knowledge. If you were on the teams he covered and missed this, I pity you.

But I pity the people who never saw the way his smile lit up a room even more. More than anything else, De Remer the sports fiend was about joy. Scary joy, perhaps—I can remember being accosted by Dave at the Crimson one night as he revealed, with the exultant urgency of the Archangel Gabriel, some quirk in the field hockey NCAA selection criteria that no one had ever noticed. Scary joy, sometimes, but always joy. The reporting feats were superhuman. The smile was simply super... human. Long live Dave.